Running After Leg Day – Good Or Bad Idea?

Natalie Cecconi
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Why is Leg Day Important for Strength Training?

Most workouts are just a bunch of isolated exercises that do little to push your overall fitness forward. But leg workouts are a different category.

Leg workouts engage your whole a body in several different ways to force your body to get stronger.

Leg exercises can be classified in several different ways, but the easiest way is the way they are categorized in the Stronglifts 5×5 program.

Strength exercises are compound movements that utilize multiple joints in the body. They train explosiveness, power, and strength. They include the squat, deadlift, incline press, bench press, and other exercises that allow you to use heavy weights and exert a lot of force.

Hypertrophy exercises are isolation movements that target one specific muscle group at a time. They include leg extensions, leg curls, leg presses, and other single joint exercises. They are perfect for targeting the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and other large muscle groups.

Legs are the hardest working muscles in your body. They are responsible for supporting, propelling, and stabilizing your body when you walk, run, jump, and play sports. This is why it’s important to put in work on your legs.

A solid leg workout will keep your leg muscles strong, healthy, and capable of carrying you forward.

Builds More Overall Muscle

And Helps You Burn More Fat.

You have finally developed the strength to squat 200 pounds, and that’s awesome! However, if you don’t run, like, forever, your legs will still be puny.

You don’t have to train only one part of your body in isolation to get results. Running is meant to complement weightlifting, not detract from it.

It’s true that if the weightlifting was effective (and it was if you can squat 200 pounds), you will initially gain muscle mass. And this is especially true if you are new to weightlifting. The harder you train, the more muscle you build.

However, weightlifting (and running) are not bulking agents. They will not make your legs bigger.

It won’t make your legs smaller, but they will stay small if you don’t also add muscle building activities to your weekly fitness routine.

Here is what will happen. If you lift weights and run, your legs will become more toned because you are gaining overall muscle and burning fat. This is the healthy way to do it.

Builds Core Strength

It’s not (always) bad idea to run after hard leg training session.

Running is often considered to be extremely hard on your joints, but the truth is that as long as your form is decent and you’re not overdoing it you can actually run to help recover from your leg workouts.

Running is actually a low impact sport compared to other high intensity activities, e.g. competitive weight training, plyometrics, and sprints. Also, running will get better results than traditional recovery workouts, such as biceps and triceps extensions and curls, and other free weight exercises.

Running is not recommended if you experience pain after your leg training sessions. When you run, you are actually placing some stress (albeit in small amounts) on your muscles. If you are experiencing a lot of challenge with running, there is a chance that you have already exhausted your legs.

A low intensity run after leg day, at the right moment, could help you out a lot.

Helps You Become a Better Runner (or Cyclist or Swimmer)

In my opinion, there are 2 potentially good reasons why running the day after leg day can help you become more skillful at running, cycling or swimming.

The first is related to neuromuscular facilitation. It’s been known for many years that peripheral stimulation and exercise training can enhance the nervous system’s ability to produce a particular movement or its qualities (reflexes, reactions, muscle activation, co-ordination, and patterns).

There are two ways to train the neurology for a movement. One is to repeatedly stimulate the cortex and the other is to activate certain reflexes through peripheral stimuli/sensory input.

The technique of peripheral exercise training involves direct activation of motor unit pools by input from the periphery, such as the muscles or tendons. For example, the skin and muscle that control the knee joint and the muscles that activate the ankle joint. This peripheral activation leads to a central facilitation of the motor system.

If you apply the same concept to your legs, the theory goes that by doing repetitive cycling or running after leg training you will stimulate your leg muscles (the periphery) and, in turn, activate the muscles in the thigh and hip (the central source).

Over time, this leads to a central facilitation of the motor system, which is a combination of both a potential peripheral and central activation of the muscles in the leg structure.

Helps With Back Pain

In the past, you may have noticed that some workouts are dubbed “the most important workout of the week.” Usually, these workouts are in there for some sort of a reason, such as helping a specific muscle group recover. Examples of these “key workouts” are Sunday’s leg session and Wednesday’s chest workout.

When Monday rolls around after your back-focused leg session, you may think that a runner’s high-paced walk or light jog is enough to ease that burning sensation in your lower back. However, getting back into the swing of things can actually do more harm than good if you are in pain Monday morning. This is especially common for individuals who do a lot of heavy squatting or deadlifting in their workouts.

If you’re using a barbell or dumbbells for heavy back squats or deadlifts, those heavily loaded exercises put more strain on the lower back. Many people who deadlift or squat with heavy weight and low repetitions believe they should not do anything that puts any additional stress on their lower back. The truth is that you should be doing and walking/jogging, as long as it doesn’t “irritate your back” or cause any pain.

Why is Leg Day Hard?

A typical total-body exercise routine would include leg day. A lot of people who are new to gym may shy away from leg day due to the fact that it is tough.

Legs are the strongest muscles in the human body. They use the most energy and, therefore, get the most fatigued. This makes them quite easy to injure if you are not careful. Things such as your heart rate and the intensity of the exercise, will determine how much energy your legs require to perform an exercise. This also equates to, if your legs are tired, the rest of your body including your heart rate are likely to follow suit.

The energy is stored in the glycogen and muscle fibers that are found in the legs.

So, it makes sense that the harder you attempt a leg exercise, the more glycogen and muscle fibers will need to be used.

How Can I Prevent Soreness After Leg Day?

Knowing how to deal with DOMS is the key to getting through your leg day without having to cancel any dates or running late for work.

There are a few things that you can do to fix the problem:

Exercise in a slow and steady manner. Don’t rush things. Slow down as much as you can, especially if you feel the pain as you increase the weight. Slow lifting protects you as well as the muscle.

Stretch and massage your legs. After every set, stretch your muscles for a few seconds. Perform static and dynamic stretching as well. Dynamic stretching is better than static stretching before your work out, while static stretching is better after working out.

Drink plenty of fluids – but avoid alcohol.

Use a compression sleeve. Compression sleeves help to reduce inflammation and speed up the healing process.

Is Running After Leg Day Okay?

If you are an occasional runner or interested in getting started, then running after leg day might be a good idea. However, if you are a hardcore runner, you might want to reconsider for the sake of your running performance.

Some of you may already know that leg day is the leg workout day and heavy weightlifting is the main focus. And well, running is leg day is a bad choice, as running will injure and fatigue your leg muscles. It is unnecessary to crush your leg muscles with a grueling run and to risk straining a muscle.

As a beginner, running can cause damage to your leg muscles and bring about injury. This is not because running is a bad exercise, but more because your leg muscles are not yet strong enough. Running after leg day risks overstraining your already tired leg muscles.

When you run, you hold your weight entirely on your lower legs. Running on tired or overstrained muscle can cause injuries like shin splints or even worse, stress fractures from repetitive pounding. Not to mention how much energy you will have to expend when running on tired legs.

Why Some People Say No

Maybe a question you must have heard multiple times in your life is, “Should I run X days after lifting?”

Today, I’ll be providing all the facts and evidence you need to make a wiser decision.

I’ll be analyzing 2 different but popular questions surrounding running after a leg workout to give you the core knowledge and understanding of why I would personally go for running and what I would recommend.

Lifting is a biomechanically complex sport. Put simply, lifting is characterized by concentric and eccentric muscle actions. In simpler terms, this means that a single lift consists of a muscle contraction (not just one) and its subsequent lengthening.

This is easily observable during the bench press lift. The initial movement or the concentric movement is associated with pulling the weight up.

Exercises like the squat, on the other hand, involve muscle action concentrically (to lift the weight) and eccentrically (to lower the weight).

This could be the reason why people who lift have a high tendency to experience soreness and long term muscle sores.

So what does this have to do with running?

Although running primarily falls in the category of aerobic training, it can also be described as a short-term, high intensity anaerobic activity.

Why It’s Okay to Run After Leg Day

There’s always that grueling leg day at the end of a tough workout.

Squats, deadlifts and leg presses push you to the limits and by the time you’re done, you can barely walk, never mind run a mile.

The temptation to hit the treadmill sounds great, but the fear of aching muscles and joints after a run often keeps people from combining leg days and cardio sessions.

But it’s okay to do them.

It may be a little brutal if you’re training hard, but running after leg day is perfectly safe.

A high-quality aerobic session can help flush your system of lactic acid, an acid that causes pain and tightness, and can even help strengthen your muscles.

However, even though it’s safe to run after leg day, that’s not so say that you should.

It’s best not to mix heavy weightlifting with intense cardio because doing so over a long period of time is stressful on your body.

How Can I Go for a Run After Leg Day?

Uh-oh! Leg Day has officially kicked your ass.

Are you worried?

With just a few hours of rest, you can shed those feelings and get back in the gym the next day. You don’t need to worry and think that leg day is enough to stop you from training again.

During this phase of your leg training, the muscle fibers will start to feel sore.

The truth is, when you go into the gym again, your legs will have a flushing effect and feel much lighter.

For example, the quadriceps are responsible for the main part of the force that allows you to walk or run.

The hamstrings are mainly responsible for the stabilization process. They run from the rear below hip to the tibia on the back of the lower leg, and then to the sides of the foot.

The eccentric contraction (the reverse movement) is required to perform deceleration of the body, which is used when you are going down the stairs for example.

Start running slowly and then start to accelerate. When you are running, you will be working on both the hamstrings and the quadriceps.

This creates an eccentric contraction in both muscles, which will cause them to swell and increase in size.

During this phase of the recovery process, the muscles will need many more hours to recover and grow.

Do a Warm Up

Before Running?

You might be asking so why would you do a warm up for running, if you are just running at a steady pace? Isn’t it just a waste of time and energy?

Running involves your whole body. So by warming up your muscles and joints, you’re preparing the whole body for the activity you’re about to do. The warm up will also help reduce the risk of injury.

If you find it difficult to warm up properly, there are also other ways to go about this. For example, you can start your run with a slow jog and then build into your normal running. Drills such as high knees, butt kicks, skipping, and side shuffles are all great for warming up.

Go for a Slow, Short Run

After Heavy Leg Work?

As a runner, you should always strive to improve your performance and make sure that you do not carry too much weight on your body.

This is why people do cardio work and weight training – to improve their performance.

And as a runner, you should weight train regularly because the legs comprise the majority of your body weight – your legs are still the fastest muscles in the body. And it’s important to keep them strong and healthy.

However, the load that your legs take on is quite different from other muscle groups. It’s not uncommon for your legs to start sweating and shaking shortly after the first sets of heavy squats or deadlifts. So, it’s only natural to be slightly lazy and take it easy after heavy leg work.

Two extremes can be dangerous obviously. On one side, you can’t go hard core every day. On the other hand, going for a jog is also not good if you have not taken enough rest after leg day.

Both choices can lead to common injuries.

You should give your legs a day, at least, if not two, and also, take the time to properly recover before getting into another leg workout.

Otherwise you could end up with inflammation or some serious knee damage.

Wear Compression Pants/Shorts

If you’re pushing hard in the gym, you may want to consider wearing compression pants or shorts after leg day.

This article on Men’s Fitness explains why compression pants will help you recover faster after leg day.

This compression clothing will help your muscles recover naturally. The circulating blood will feed your fatigued muscles, helping them recover faster.

Ice baths are also very good for muscle recovery, but if you do decide to give them a go, be sure to do it after wearing compression clothing. Bottom line:

If you’re pushing hard in the gym, wear compression pants after squats!

But don’t wear compression clothes every day because too much compression will negatively affect your circulation.

What are Some Other Tips for Recovering After Leg Day?

If you routinely follow a leg day regimen and the heavy squats are beginning to drag you down, you’re not alone.

In fact, your fatigue may not just be a sign that your legs are going through some serious growth. It might also be due to the breakdown of the myofibrillar and mitochondrial proteins that power your muscles.

For several hours after a serious leg day, your body needs to rebuild the damaged parts. And in the process, your slow-twitch or aerobic muscle fibers are broken down to enter the fast-twitch category. And it’s the fast-twitch fibers that provide the greatest gains in terms of both strength and size.

So in a way, the soreness you’re feeling is a positive sign. If it’s bad, well, then your legs are atrophying, but if it’s just the right amount, then congratulations! You’re body is building muscle growth.

Stay Hydrated

Let me start by saying that every runner knows that running burns a lot of calories.

That’s actually part of the fun of it. Not only does running keep you in great shape, but it also puts you in a calorie deficit for the day. Which means if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s a great way to exercise.

And since running burns a lot of calories, you may be wondering if you should eat more after a run, to balance out the calorie deficit.

In fact, most people do want to eat more after running. Sometimes, even more than usual.

But here’s the thing not many people know about. It’s pretty important and not something that you should just assume without any discussion.

If you eat too much after a run, you might be undoing the good the exercise just did for you.

See, after running, you’re burning a lot of fat and other excess stored fuels, and also getting rid of the lactate build-up in your muscles.

If you overeat after a run, you’re just replacing the fat and carbohydrates you just burned. So it’s like taking one step forward, and two steps back.

Get Lots of Sleep

To recover from a grueling workout, your muscles need rest, or else you run the risk of an overuse injury that will keep you off the gym floor for weeks. This applies to any kind of physical activity, and running is no exception.

The faster you can recover from your run workout, the sooner you can return to your favorite treadmill (or the trails, if you prefer).

And the way to do this is by getting plenty of good quality sleep – in other words, seven to eight hours a night.

Here is why you need to get enough sleep to speed up muscle recovery after a tough run:

Sleep supercharges your muscle recovery

Muscles use protein to repair themselves after a hard workout. And one of the best sources of protein for muscle building and recovery happens to be sleep because the production and release of growth hormones increase significantly if you get enough sleep.

By having more growth hormone, the body converts the little bit of extra protein you’re getting in your diet into muscle… and this boosts recovery.

Sleep is linked to testosterone

Guys who get plenty of sleep have been proven to have higher testosterone levels than guys who get less than 7 hours of sleep a night … and naturally higher levels of testosterone means you build muscle quicker and recover faster.

Massage Sore Parts of Your Body

If you’re a newbie to weightlifting or are using an innovative strength training routine you’ve picked up from a friend, you’re probably also wondering whether you should follow the advice of your coach or give in to your instinctive need to massage your muscles after a tough leg day.

I remember writing about the same topic last year. One of the best advice I received was “after you’re done training, you should never jump straight into a shower. ”

I forget if it was Muscle & Fitness or Men’s Health, but it’s been around for over a year now, so they both have an equal chance of being right.

The article mentioned that the warm water causes your blood to rush to the surface of your skin, which then carries the lactic acid that has been produced following your workout. The lactic acid is then pushed deeper into your muscle tissue, which stimulates muscle recovery and growth.

I was immediately dreading the thought of spending extra time in the gym or having to catch a later bus home because I had blown my recovery routine.

Avoid Alcohol

Whiskey and coke – tastes great in frozen form. But when consumed after exercising, it’s more like a slow poison, eating away at your muscle tissue.

It’s very common for keen gym-goers to want to reward themselves with an alcoholic beverage after a workout. But think twice before you do.

Alcohol, as it turns out, greatly inhibits muscle recovery and growth after working out.

The more vigorous your workout, the more efficiently alcohol will inhibit muscle recovery. And as a general rule of thumb, the more alcohol you drink, the more severely it will affect your recovery.

The proteins that we’ve spoken about earlier are largely responsible for repairing and rebuilding your muscles after you exercise. Alcohol, however, hampers the protein synthesis needed for muscle repair and growth.

Wear Compression Gear After Workout/Run

I am here to clear the air on whether it’s OK to wear compression gear right after a run or a workout … and not just the Vibrams!

Compression socks are just one type of compression gear that you can use immediately after working out. The theory that it helps you recover by decreasing the amount of time it takes blood to get from your legs back to your heart is legitimate (for most people).

The science behind it states that by compressing your legs, you get the blood flowing back to your heart faster. But here’s the catch:

Compression gear affects different people differently. It won’t necessarily improve your blood circulation. In fact, it could potentially do the opposite. This is why I can’t answer the question of should you wear compression socks after a hard workout with one universal answer.

If you’ve ever worn compression gear and noticed your calves being very swollen after, you have experienced this effect. Your calves were already pumped from your run/workout and you put on a tight sock that makes them swell up even more.

In most cases, you should wait to wear compression gear until about 45 minutes after your workout. At that point your muscles will have time to fully relax and won’t be as sensitive to compression.

Concluding Thoughts

Running is a good way to burn excess calories. In fact, you burn more calories per minute with running than with any other type of exercise. So running is definitely a good way to lose weight.

During aerobic activities, runners tend to increase their heart rate to at least 60% of their maximum heart rate. It is worth noting that there is no exact number set in stone for the “maximum heart rate.” It is calculated by subtracting your age from 220. Therefore, if you are 30 years old, the maximum heart rate will be 190.

Many people report that they feel the need to run purely for the sake of becoming fitter and leaner. They understand that there are many other more effective forms of exercise out there. But running is an activity that is very easy to stick to because they feel comfortable and strong after running. In other words, running is a habit.

So, is it worth sticking to this habit? Well, if you are running really fast and for a long time, I would say no. You put your body through a lot of stress and it might be better to take a rest day … or two.